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HOT 100 INSPIRING INDEPENDENTS: David Lee — Hing Wa Lee Jewelers

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Hing Wa Lee and CH Premier Jewelers carve up the Greater Los Angeles market for Chinese customers between them.

Hing Wa Lee has Rolex as its anchor brand at its vast free-standing showrooms in Walnut (22,000 square feet) and San Gabriel (15,000 square feet), while CH Premier has Patek Philippe in Santa Clara.

David Lee claims he invented the concept of targeting non-mainstream customers, like expatriate Chinese, and in the early 1990s persuaded Rolex to share his vision and sign Hing Wa Lee as an authorized dealer.

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That decision, David says, led to the creation of the highest-grossing Rolex store in the country at that time.

“I was only the second store to open with Rolex in San Gabriel and one of the first Asian dealers in the whole of the United States in 1995,” he says.

“That changed a lot of perceptions about Hing Wa Lee and suddenly a lot of other brands wanted to talk to me.”

If you don’t know David for his spectacular watch showrooms, which are designed to accommodate coach loads of customers at one time, you might know him as one of the greatest collectors of Ferraris in the country, a hobby funded as much by the Hing Wa Lee real estate empire as by its watch and jewelry business.

About 95% of Hing Wa Lee’s customers are Chinese. A big problem with the country’s zero-Covid strategy isolating its citizens from traveling around the world, you might think.

Not so, says David, who told WatchPro in 2019 that only 15% of his business came from tourists.

“They say that the Chinese community is about 3 million people in LA [the official figure is far lower] and we do not just serve local Chinese or visitors from mainland China,” he says.

“There is Hong Kong, Taiwan and other Asian markets like Vietnam. It is a big market.”

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